Published in Daily Times on Tuesday, October 16, 2012
It was wartime in Africa, Uganda. Idi Amin had just been removed and Milton Obote was in charge in 1985. I was five, sleeping soundlessly in my room when I heard voices; clutching my blanket I walked out to the corridor where I was stopped by some army men, men who were ordered to shoot Asians at sight. They were in the house and that was bad. I started screaming in terror. My mother was a few steps away, asking them to hand me over. They pulled out a gun and aimed it at her head. My wails were louder. Finally they shot, but inches away from her foot. The details are fuzzy. We all survived this ordeal somehow, but I had developed my schema: I am going to live in my country. My children will not grow up in fear for their life because they are considered hostile to a group. They will have security.
Proudly clutching my passport, I returned to Pakistan a decade ago. But now, I feel like I am reliving my nightmare. My daughter, now eight, asked me yesterday if it was alright to go to school and whether the Taliban will spare her, or shoot her in the head like they did with Malala Yousafzai.
There is very little difference between actual terror and one vividly imagined. My child, as well as the children of Pakistan, has had something taken away from them by the Taliban. They have been prevented from taking for granted an intrinsic right to an education. They have sown doubt in their minds and fear in their hearts that unlike monster stories are real and on the primetime news.
Malala Yousafzai’s loss is a burden that the world will never be able to carry, for those eyes, that conviction, that progressiveness is not just rare it escapes the majority in Pakistan and, particularly, our politicians. She clearly flagged the enemy: the Taliban. Whereas even now some people would rather choose to believe the attack on her was perpetrated by ‘external forces’, even though by the Taliban’s own admission they would not spare her if she lives. Malala’s courage and her clarity against obscurantist forces stands as a stark contrast to parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, who talk of negotiating with the Taliban as if it is sane to show moderation in the time of a great fire.
Religious parties are seemingly on steroids in response to the nation’s outrage over Malala, and have arranged lunatic-sounding conferences to “save Islam” and obviously show solidarity with the Taliban. The state has failed by gargantuan proportions by failing to protect Malala, and the army has failed by allowing the Taliban to run the show. The latter is completely by design. War needs to manufacture enemies and without cause, no one needs to keep pumping half of Pakistan’s GDP into the military.
We demand an army that protects the people, and for that, it would need to halt exorbitant Saudi funding of Wahhabiism in Pakistan. For decades now after the Afghan War, there has been a consistent flow of weapons into the hands of terrorists. We need the state to do its part and rein in the military-Saudi complex. This is the only way to vow to have no more incidents where the weakest in our society are attacked.
Unlike the Taliban’s pointblank shooting of girl children, drones are not intended to maim civilians. Yet there are those who have naively crusaded on this cause with such fervour that one wonders if they have bothered to look up the numbers on those that have been brutally murdered as a result of terrorism versus those who have died as a result of collateral damage. Why choose one cause over the other? And more importantly, is one not because of the other? Eliminate the Taliban and we need not use the most sophisticated weaponry the world developed. Getting rid of the Taliban is not going to happen over a cup of tea.
What the Taliban have communicated to us through Malala has taught us that they do not want to negotiate. What Malala has communicated to us is that there is still a Pakistan worth fighting for because there are people like her who have lived and God willing will continue to live.
We must choose Malala and her struggle for education for the girl child.